If the Supreme Court strikes down part or all of the Affordable Care Act, a strong plurality of the public wants Congress to try again to come up with a comprehensive health care law to guarantee insurance for all Americans.
Forty-six percent of respondents in a new poll favor that ambitious approach, while 18 percent say that Congress should be content to “pass smaller measures that will cover some people without insurance but not as many as the original law.” Meanwhile, 28 percent of respondents said that Congress should simply do away with all of President Obama’s 2010 law, including any parts the Supreme Court may decide to uphold.
The results appear in the latest edition of the United Technologies/National Journal Congressional Connection Poll.
The near majority—46 percent—that favored trying to come up with another law providing health insurance to all Americans shows a public that still has an ambitious agenda for Congress at the same time that it’s wary of parts of the Obama legislation.
According to the poll, some 74 percent of Americans want the Supreme Court to strike down the individual mandate that’s at the heart of the Affordable Care Act. Only 23 percent wanted the mandate upheld, and 3 percent didn’t know or refused to answer. Those results are in keeping with other public-opinion polls.
Some Supreme Court justices were openly skeptical of the mandate’s constitutionality during oral arguments earlier this spring, and Congress could well find itself this summer facing a gutted or overturned health care law as well as a public that still is demanding progress toward universal coverage—all at a time when the deficit is swelling, Washington is polarized, and the presidential and congressional elections are looming.
The Congressional Connection Poll, conducted by Princeton Survey Research Associates International, surveyed 1,012 adults by landline and cell phone from May 31 to June 3. It has a margin of error of +/- 3.7 percentage points.
The poll is the latest in a series of national surveys that track the public’s priorities for Congress—and its assessment of Washington’s performance—during most weeks that Congress is in session during this election year.
This edition of the Congressional Connection Poll also measured public attitudes toward issues raised by the farm bill that Congress is considering this year. The mammoth, multibillion-dollar measure must be renewed by this fall, and while the Senate Agriculture Committee passed a bipartisan measure in April—a rare hopeful sign of bonhomie in Congress—there are still any number of issues holding up an agreement, including price-support and insurance provisions that rice, peanut, and cotton growers have vowed to fight. Southern senators on the Senate Agriculture Committee voted no when the bill came up for a vote at a markup last month.
Funding for food stamps is also a divisive issue. The budget resolution that passed the House calls for program cuts that face overwhelming Democratic opposition; the more modest changes in the food-stamp program in the Senate Agriculture Committee bill earned a no vote from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York over the bill’s treatment of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food-stamp program is formally known.
One poll question noted that enrollment in SNAP has risen from 32 million when President Obama took office to 46 million today. Asked what caused the increase, 45 percent of respondents attributed the sharp rise to the recession and slow recovery, while only 12 percent chalked it up to loose eligibility requirements or fraud. A sizable slice of the public—39 percent—saw the economy and fraud or loose eligibility as equal causes of the increase.
When asked if spending on the food-stamp program should be increased as part of the farm bill, 20 percent responded that it should be, 32 percent said it should be decreased, and 42 percent said that spending should be kept about the same—a pattern that would seem to suggest House Republicans need to do more to sell the public on the idea of substantial cuts in SNAP. Not surprisingly, the poll found Republicans more likely to favor cutting spending on food stamps. Only 4 percent of Republicans favored increasing spending on food stamps, while 55 percent wanted to see it cut. Republicans were three times more likely than Democrats (21 percent to 7 percent) to blame loose eligibility requirements and fraud as the cause of the increase in food-stamp rolls.
White men were particularly critical of food-stamp spending. A full 44 percent of white males with college educations wanted food stamps cut; 41 percent of white men with some college education or less wanted the program cut. Each demographic was more likely than the national average to see fraud and loose standards as the cause of the hike in the food-stamp rolls.
Despite the pressure on Congress to cut spending, the poll found strong support for either increasing or keeping spending about the same for subsidies to farmers and agribusinesses to help guarantee that prices for their crops don’t fall too low. Thirty-nine percent of the public wanted the amount spent on such subsidies to go up, while 37 percent wanted it to stay the same. Only 19 percent wanted to see cuts, a significantly lower percentage than the 32 percent who wanted to see food stamps cut. Five percent of the poll respondents didn’t know or refused to answer the question.
The public showed enthusiasm for increasing the amount spent to promote local farmers’ markets, roadside stands, and other direct sales from producers to consumers. A near majority, 48 percent, wanted more money spent on this, while only 15 percent wanted such funding cut. Thirty-two percent wanted it kept about the same. The bill that was voted out of the Senate Agriculture Committee included expanded funding to help farmers sell directly to consumers. A recent poll by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found that 80 percent of the public says Washington should do more to increase access to locally produced food. Although the question was worded somewhat differently than the one posed in the Congressional Connection Poll, the results suggest that these programs may have a political constituency waiting to be tapped.
Despite all the talk about American competitiveness overseas, respondents showed no great enthusiasm for spending more “to promote the sale of American agricultural products overseas.” Only 32 percent of those surveyed thought that Washington should spend more to help U.S. farm exports, while 35 percent wanted to spend about the same and 27 percent wanted to see such programs cut.
This article appears in the June 5, 2012, edition of National Journal Daily.